The United States buys far more products from abroad than it exports. In 2013, for example, the U.S. trade deficit was nearly $475 billion, according a report published in May by The Associated Press.
The overall track record of American companies in selling what they produce to the vast number of consumers who live outside U.S. borders has been unimpressive. A recent analysis of trade released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that only 1 percent of our nation's companies are exporters.
This longtime pattern of importing substantially more goods and services than are exported is one of the reasons the U.S. economy remains sluggish. It contributes to a disturbingly persistent amount of unemployment and underemployment.
The dismal trade picture would be much worse if it were not for the success of American farmers and ranchers and agricultural industries in finding and cultivating foreign markets.
Late last month, the USDA released its Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade report. It documents that the agricultural sector of the American economy is a trade bright spot. Additionally, it projects even more positive news in the years ahead.
The USDA is estimating that in the current fiscal year, agricultural exports will reach $149.5 billion. That's even better than the department's earlier projections by about $6.9 billion.
The volume of U.S. agricultural exports is projected to be 31 percent higher in 2014 than it was in 2013. The USDA analysis concludes that 1 million American jobs are supported by agricultural exports.
The bullish current-year picture for agricultural exports is part of a multiyear trend. According to the USDA, 2009-13 was the strongest five-year period in agricultural trade history.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack underlined the importance of these numbers in a statement issued May 29.
"This report indicates that the volume of U.S. agricultural exports has increased, which demonstrates an increasing global appetite for high-quality, American-grown products," he said.
He also said his department will be able to maintain and enhance its efforts to promote agricultural sales abroad as a result of provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill.
"USDA is able to continue support for trade promotion and market expansion for U.S. agricultural products overseas — programs that return $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested," Vilsack said.
"These efforts will ensure that America's farmers and ranchers are well-positioned to capitalize on emerging export markets and continue to drive economic growth in rural America."
That's news farmers and ranchers across the U.S. should celebrate. In Iowa, analysts estimate that every third row of crops is destined for a market outside the United States.
It is no exaggeration to claim that the prosperity of the farmer is closely tied to the economic well-being of consumers in a large number of faraway lands. It promises to be an increasingly important economic story in the decades ahead.
Too few of the goods this country produces are competitive in foreign marketplaces. That makes the record American farmers are achieving in exports all the more remarkable.
It is an encouraging achievement at a time when sluggishness elsewhere in the U.S. economy remains a serious national concern.
Copyright Fort Dodge (Iowa) Messenger. Distributed by the Associated Press.